Valdosta Daily Times

Local Sports

April 17, 2014

Atlanta lands MLS expansion team for 2017

Atlanta — Arthur Blank donned traditional soccer garb to mark his newest venture — an MLS team for Atlanta.

“I love this one,” Blank said, looking down at the red, black and gold scarf draped over his dark suit. “I haven’t taken it off since it was given to me. I may not sleep in it tonight, but I may. I haven’t decided yet.”

Major League Soccer announced its latest team Wednesday, an expansion team for Atlanta that will begin play in 2017 at the city’s new retractable roof stadium.

The team will be owned by Blank, who also controls the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. He said it was the culmination of a process that started about a decade ago, when he first started talks with MLS about bringing a team to the city.

The off-and-on discussions picked up again after Blank reached a deal with the city last year to build a new $1 billion downtown stadium next to the soon-to-be-demolished Georgia Dome. He is putting up most of the money, with the city kicking in $200 million from a hotel tax.

“I think Atlanta is a natural fit for Major League Soccer,” said Blank, who was serenaded by a burgeoning fan group that calls itself “Terminus Legion,” a reference to the city’s former name.

The team’s name has not been determined. Blank said he will get input from the fans before deciding on the new moniker, though he already knows the colors: red and black — matching the Falcons — with a substantial amount of gold as well.

“What the name will be, we really don’t know,” he said. “We will spend a lot of time listening to our fans and trying to understand why some names are more important than others, why certain designs are more important than others, why certain logos are more important than others.”

One name that won’t be considered: Atlanta Chiefs, the name of two previous teams that played in the old North American Soccer League. While the Chiefs won the first NASL championship in 1968, both versions struggled financially and eventually folded.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber said there was no hesitation about putting a team in Atlanta once Blank worked out a stadium deal.

It is the ninth-largest metropolitan area in the U.S. and the biggest without a top-level soccer team. The city has a large Hispanic population and last month drew more than 68,000 fans to the Georgia Dome for a friendly between Mexico and Nigeria.

“This is something that will help elevate our league,” Garber said. “It will also elevate our sport in the entire Southeast, which is something that is very important to us strategically.”

The league went all out to tout its newest team. Hundreds of fans turned out for a street festival before Blank and Garber arrived by helicopter for the introductory news conference, touching down on the roof of a downtown hotel overlooked Centennial Olympic Park. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed also attended.

While the new stadium is primarily designed for the Falcons, Blank stressed that it will be soccer-friendly. The stands along the sideline will have the capability to retract, accommodating the larger soccer pitch while maintaining sightlines.

Curtains will descend from the roof automatically to close off the upper sections, creating the sort of intimate atmosphere that works better for less-attended MLS games.

The new facility is designed to seat about 71,000 for NFL games, Blank said, but can be reduced to about 29,000 for soccer using only the lower bowl.

“There will never be an MLS game in Atlanta where NFL lines are shown on the field,” Blank said, drawing a big cheer.

MLS, which has 19 teams this season, is expanding rapidly with a goal of having 24 teams by the end of the decade. Orlando and New York City are scheduled to begin play next season, and the league has awarded a provisional team in Miami to a group led by David Beckham, contingent on a soccer-specific stadium being built.

The league has added five teams in the past five years, including the hugely successful Seattle Sounders. Garber said there is no worry about growing too fast given the abundance of soccer talent around the world.

“When we expand, we can pick from players around the world,” Garber said. “We could change the roster rules, the international player limits, and have no dilution in talent.”

Blank said he will try to encourage some crossover between Falcons’ season-ticket holders and those interested in attending MLS games. But he acknowledged the teams are likely to have very different fan bases, making it clear the new soccer team will not merely be a side business for the Falcons.

His first priority is to hire a team president for the MLS venture. He will also be exploring possible locations for a state-of-the-art training facility.

“We don’t want any stepchildren in our family,” Blank said. “We want to make sure the people running soccer get up in the morning thinking about soccer and go to bed thinking about soccer.”

1
Text Only
Local Sports
  • Grable signs with Tampa Bay

    Another former Valdosta State football player joined the ranks of the National Football League when linebacker Jeremy Grable signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Wednesday morning.

    July 23, 2014

  • MaryAlice.jpg Just Keep Running

    Forrest Gump once said, "I used to run to get to where I was going, but I never thought it would take me anywhere." In the case of 18 year-old Mary Alice Smoot, anywhere is Tampa, Fla.
    After four years of unparalleled success running cross-country at Valwood, Smoot will continue running competitively next season at the University of Tampa.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • 10U ELITE World Series Champs.jpg DKSA Elite win USSSA Global World Series

    DKSA ELITE just continues to win, the 10U team’s latest victory came in the USSSA Global World Series held in Destin, Fla. July 8-12.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Lowndes_McPherson.jpg Milestones on tap for upcoming season

    Some milestones are destined to occur, like when Georgia Christian hosts David Emanuel on Aug. 22 in the Generals’ first varsity football game since the late 1960s.
    Others will have to wait and see what continues to take shape come Friday when teams can begin fall practice, and especially Aug. 1 when teams can suit up in pads for the first time, such as can Valdosta win its record 24th state title, or can Lowndes capture its fourth state championship under Randy McPherson, or can Valwood and coach Ashley Henderson play in its third straight GISA state championship game?
    As we start to find out the answers to those questions in just a few short weeks — the regular season is just 31 days away — there should be a few more milestones for area coaches to mark 2014 right along with the Generals getting back on the gridiron.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • ACC_Jimbo.jpg Back on top

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • ACC_Petrino.jpg Petrino returns to Louisville for first ACC season

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Braves_Marlins JUpton.jpg Jones lifts Marlins past Braves in 10

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ant Smith.JPG Anthony Smith ready for new test in college

    Smith was a three-year starter as a Wildcat and quickly worked his way up as a leader on both the defense and the team as a whole.

    July 21, 2014 3 Photos

  • Wildcats participate in national 7-on-7 tournament

    The Valdosta High Wildcats have been working extremely hard this summer to prepare for the football season. Summer workouts and a plethora of 7-on-7 tournaments and competitions have kept the Wildcats busy.

    July 20, 2014

  • Valwood.jpg A Different Look

    With football summer workouts in full swing, occasionally the intensity and competitive drive can wane going against teammates. But on Friday, Valwood, Brookwood, Lanier County and Tiftarea Academy broke up the monotony by meeting at Goddard Field for a four-team, 7-on-7 passing league.

    July 19, 2014 2 Photos

Blazers Blog
More